McCarthy: UMass doesn’t need depth scoring; it just needs to score first

Minutemen are 18-2-2 when potting first goal of the game

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Dylan Nugyen/ Daily Collegian

By Colin McCarthy, Assistant Sports Editor

BOSTON — It’s not a secret that the Massachusetts hockey team lacks depth in its forward group. No line outside of the top trio of Bobby Trivigno, Josh Lopina and Garrett Wait has been able to produce offense consistently this season.

But, after another Hockey East playoff victory over UMass Lowell, 3-1, the question must be asked: how badly does UMass (21-12-2, 14-8-2 HEA) really need that scoring depth?

Between the Minutemen’s top line and defensemen, they are producing enough overall offense to win hockey games. There isn’t much room for error, though, because if the top line has an off night, then UMass will struggle mightily to get on the scoreboard. But Trivigno is the HEA Player of the Year, is nearly a lock to win his second straight Walter Brown award and was recently announced as a top-10 Hobey Baker finalist. He doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon.

On top of that, Wait always seems to come up with big goals in the playoffs. He opened the scoring on Friday night by batting a rebound of his own shot out of the air and into the back of the net. Lopina was stabbing at the puck as well, and he’s coming off his best career game offensively in the HEA quarterfinals against Providence.

That trio is going to be difficult for any team in college hockey to shut down; they fit perfectly together and make big plays all over the ice. As UMass coach Greg Carvel said on Tuesday, they’re the ones “driving the bus” for the Minutemen right now.

So, as much as UMass needs some depth scoring, the thing it needs most is to score first.

The Minutemen have done an exceptionally good job playing with a lead this season. They are 18-2-2 when recording the first goal of the night, and only 3-10 when allowing their opponent to break the ice on the scoreboard. That isn’t a coincidence.

UMass leans on its defense to win hockey games. The backend is the backbone and identity of the Minutemen roster. This year’s group isn’t quite as flashy as they were in previous seasons, but they are still quietly effective. Especially when they don’t give up odd-man rushes.

UMass’ neutral zone trap and strong defensive structure prevent a lot of teams from creating offense. The River Hawks (21-10-3, 15-8-1) had difficulty pushing the pace past Carvel’s 1-3-1 trap, and when the puck did make its way into UML’s offensive zone, the Minutemen defense used physicality to push the River Hawks away from the net and give Matt Murray clear vision to the puck to stop shots.

The main reason for UMass’ success this season is its ability to control games from start to finish. If opponents take that away, that’s when a lack of depth scoring can come back to hurt the Minutemen. Make no mistake, UMass needs more out of its forward group, especially Cal Kiefiuk, Reed Lebster and Anthony Del Gaizo.

But, even without that depth scoring, the Minutemen have proved they can win all season long. If they won games with defenseman Ty Farmer slotted into a third line winger role, they can win with four true forward lines.

The identity of UMass isn’t depth scoring. The identity is a strong defensive team with good special teams and one extremely good forward line. The Minutemen just need to embrace that identity. If they score first, they will almost always win hockey games. And in that same vein, if they give up the first goal, they are likely to lose.

It doesn’t matter if Trivigno scores every ‘first goal of the game’ for the rest of the playoffs. As long as somebody is doing it, UMass will still be in good shape to compete with the best teams in college hockey.

Colin McCarthy can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @colinmccarth_DC.